Roll-down foam earplugs with a high noise reduction rating and earmuffs are the most effective tools to block out baby crying and screaming sounds.
But if you are a parent trying to soothe your child, push-in foam earplugs may work better for you.
Push-in foam earplugs are very easy to insert, can be removed fast, and are good at reducing the crying volume while you are taking care of your baby.
Even with the most effective tools, if the baby is in the same room, the best you can achieve is a substantial noise reduction.
You will still hear loud crying, which can exceed 120 decibels (1 ft / 0.3 m) / 100 decibels (8 ft / 2.4 m).
When I am on an airplane or public transport, I often wear over-ear active noise cancelling headphones for their excellent ability to cancel cabin and engine noise.
But what to do when a toddler in the next row starts screaming?
The good news is that some noise cancelling headphones reduce the volume of crying sounds quite well.
But it isn’t the active noise cancellation that is doing most of the work; it is the headphones’ passive noise isolation.
And while headphones with good noise isolation help quite a bit, roll-down foam earplugs are still substantially more effective against crying.
So when it gets too loud, I wear foam earplugs underneath my headphones.
In this post, I am first looking at the most effective tools and then solutions for different situations:
- You are a parent soothing their baby or are sitting in a café and want to make loud screaming more bearable.
- You are trying to sleep in an adjacent room/hotel room and a child starts crying
- You are traveling on an airplane or public transport
Tools to block out baby crying and screaming sounds
The following chart shows the noise reduction I obtained (real-ear test using my ears) with various noise reduction tools and points out the critical frequency range for reducing crying sounds.
Note: Important is the crying sound frequency range; the higher the attenuation line in this range, the better.
Foam earplugs and passive noise reduction earmuffs
The two most effective and economical tools to reduce crying sounds are High-NRR foam earplugs (such as the Moldex Pura-Fit, blue line) and noise reduction earmuffs (such as the Peltor X2A, red line).
Both are excellent at reducing mid- and high-frequency noise in the range from 400 to 7800 Hz, the crying sound frequency range, and in particular in the range of the highest sound peaks.
The earmuffs in this chart (X2A, NRR 24) are one of my recommended study earmuffs. They are light and good at reducing mid-and-high frequency noise.
They are weak against bass noise though, so they won’t be ideal on a plane.
Higher-rated muffs (up to NRR 30-31 are available) will perform even somewhat better, but they are also heavier and bulkier.
Push-in foam earplugs
Push-in foam earplugs, such as the 3M Push-ins (NRR 28) also provide substantial relief from loud crying. While not quite as effective as roll-down foam, they are very easy to use and quick to put in.
In the hand of an inexperienced user or a parent who has little time, they may actually perform better than roll-down foam.
Can noise cancelling headphones block baby crying sounds?
Some current over-ear active noise cancelling headphones (ANC headphones) such as the Sony WH-1000XM4 (orange line in the chart above) are almost as effective as push-in earplugs when it comes to reducing crying and screaming sounds.
To be clear, they are not as effective as well-inserted roll-down foam earplugs.
What you should know is this: it is mostly the passive noise isolation and not the electronics of these headphones that is at work against crying. Active noise cancellation works great against low frequency noise but is currently not effective against higher mid and high frequency noise.
The fundamental frequency of baby crying sounds is between 400 and 600 Hz, and here active noise cancellation is still effective.
However, in most cases the loudest frequency is a multiple of the fundamental frequency (e.g., 1000, 1500 or 2000 Hz).
In case of the Sony ANC headphones, the cut-off (up to which the ANC works) is at around 700 Hz.
For frequencies >700 Hz these headphones rely completely on their good passive noise isolation for reducing the intensity of crying sounds; in essence they work as very light comfortable noise reduction earmuffs.
You can wear foam earplugs underneath over-ear headphones to get the best of both worlds in situations where you don’t care about sound quality.
Note: The passive noise isolation among ANC headphones varies widely, and, unlike earplugs and earmuffs, they don’t have a noise reduction rating to guide users.
What are the best earplugs to reduce baby crying sounds?
Crying sounds are loudest in the (mid) mid-frequency to high-frequency range. In this range, high-NRR roll-down foam earplugs shine.
1. Best for crying noise reduction (and sleeping) are roll-down foam earplugs
- Avg-size ear canal recommendation: Moldex Pura-Fit (alternative Flents Quiet Time)
- Smaller ear canal: Hearos Sleep Pretty in Pink
For more roll-down foam earplug recommendations, also read these posts:
2. Best for a parent (or bystander) who needs something easy and fast are push-in foam earplugs
- 3M Push-ins (NRR 28)
I find the 3M Push-ins both effective and comfortable. Great push-in foam earplugs, IMO.
They are reusable, so I recommend starting with a smaller pack (like the one I have linked to) and see how you go.
Should they not be available, the 3M Express-Pod plugs are also comfy but somewhat less effective.
Reducing the crying volume while you are taking care of your baby
(or if you are a third party in the same room)
Keeping your cool is important when taking care of your child. In this situation, I recommend you use either roll-down foam earplugs (most effective) or reusable push-in foam earplugs.
While push-in foam earplugs are not quite as effective as the highest rated roll-down plugs, you can put them in and take them out at a moment’s notice. Very handy for parents!
Reusable silicone earplugs (e.g., triple-flange) last longer, but I find push-ins to be easier on the ears, in particular for people not used to earplugs.
Earmuffs are a good alternative if you can’t tolerate anything in your ear. They are very effective but I am not sure how your child would perceive you wearing them.
You want to sleep, but in an adjacent room/hotel room a child starts crying
I am assuming it is not your child that is crying and you don’t have to attend to its needs. You are just trying to sleep.
The good news is that walls reduce mid and high frequency sounds very well.
The bad news is that even with a good wall and foam earplugs in your ears, you might still hear some crying sounds.
While their intensity will be greatly diminished, they could still bother you when you are trying to fall asleep.
This is what I usually do:
I wear foam earplugs and additionally play white noise to mask sounds that I can still hear through earplugs.
For this purpose, I have a white noise machine (Lectrofan Classic review) on my nightstand, and I also take it along when I travel.
White noise with a pitch similar to the sound you want to mask works best. I just cycle through the presets on my white noise machine until I find the one that is most effective.
(Alternatively, rain sounds also work well against crying.)
Traveling on an airplane (or other public transport)
I often wear over-ear active noise cancelling headphones on planes (and on trains or buses).
They do a great job at reducing airplane, engine, and other low frequency noises, and I can listen to music or watch a movie.
Moreover, they are also quite effective at passively reducing other noise.
When I want to sleep, I play white noise or rain sounds via a phone app (e.g., myNoise).
This is often enough if a baby further away starts crying.
However, if the baby is close (or people around me talk loudly), it may not be enough.
In this case, I wear foam earplugs underneath the headphones and play white noise.
This is about as effective as it gets and also very good against snorers (even in the same or next row).
How loud do babies cry?
As a parent, because you are so close to your baby, you might be exposed to crying and screaming sounds at 120 decibels.
But even at a distance of 8 ft (2.44 m), crying can exceed 100 decibels.
L. Carney measured the sound level of crying children (3.5 months to 6 years) in two situations.
- At a distance of 12 inches away (6 children) to estimate the exposure of a parent soothing their child. The average sound level was 112 dBA (102–120 dbA).
- At a distance of 18 inches away (20 children) as experienced by an ENT doc during examination. The average sound level in this condition was 105 dBA (99–110 dBA).
The study authors point out that high crying sound levels are associated with discomfort and even mild pain in those exposed.
Loudest sound frequencies
To understand what kind of earplugs and other noise reduction tools will work best to reduce the sound level of crying sounds, we need to know the frequency range at which crying is most intense.
To this end, I looked at the dominant frequencies in the recordings of six different crying babies.
- The highest peaks for these 6 recordings were in the range from 600 to 2100 Hz.
- The frequency range for crying sounds was from ca 400 up to ca 7800 Hz (+-10 decibels from the highest peak).
- We need a tool that is good at blocking mid and high frequency sounds.
Here is one example (baby 1 in the table below):
The highest peak is at 2048 Hz, closely followed by peaks at 1531, 1025, and 6117 Hz.
For this baby’s crying, the range (+-10 dB) is from 877 to 6500 Hz. It encompasses both mid and high frequencies.
Frequency analysis for 6 babies’ crying sounds
Two crying sound examples to listen to
Binaural recording, two month old baby crying loud:
Baby crying hard:
Sound level and distance: can you completely block crying sounds?
Unfortunately, you cannot completely block a 120-dB crying sound by plugging or covering your ears, but you can reduce it to a more bearable level.
In my ears, well-inserted roll-down foam earplugs offer about 35 decibels noise reduction (in the crying frequency range, see section loudest sound frequencies for details).
So, I still end up with 85 decibels reaching my ears.
This is more bearable and makes it a lot easier to stay sane, but it is still loud.
If you are a third party in a large room, such as a café, the distance helps:
Every time you double the distance from the source, the crying sound level gets reduced by 6 decibels. (room acoustics play into this, so this isn’t exact.)
Sitting 16 feet (4.88 m) away would give you a reduction of about 24 decibels, but the resulting 96 dB are still very loud.
If you again use earplugs, you may be able to reduce it to 61 decibels.
This isn’t exactly quiet, but more of an average coffee shop sound level.
1. Varallyay, G. Jr, Zoltán Benyó, András Illényi, Zs Farkas, and Levente Kovács. “Acoustic Analysis of the Infant Cry: Classical and New Methods.” In The 26th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, 1:313–16. IEEE, 2004.
2. Carney, Logan D. “The Cry of the Child and Its Relationship to Hearing Loss in Parental Guardians and Health Care Providers.” Encompass. Eastern Kentucky University, 2014.
Hat tip to Michelle Woo for the link to the Carney Report: “Wear Ear Protection When Soothing Your Screaming Baby.” Lifehacker, 2019.
3. Eguaus. “Baby Crying.” Freesound, September 11, 2015.
4. PicklJones. “Baby Crying Hard.” Freesound, April 9, 2012.
Analyzed crying sound recordings from:
- Lingle, Susan, Tobias Riede, and Natural History Editor: Mark A. McPeek. “Deer Mothers Are Sensitive to Infant Distress Vocalizations of Diverse Mammalian Species.” The American Naturalist 184, no. 4 (2014): 510–22. (human baby 1 & baby 2)
- Freesound.org (babies 3 to 6)